Crime Junkie Host and AudioChuck Founder Ashley Flowers on helping others through the power of storytelling
Describe your business in a few words?
audiochuck makes edge-of-your-seat storytelling podcasts with a focus on educating and advocating for the betterment of the communities we talk about.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
I’ve worked at start-up companies for most of my post-college career. I loved learning the ins-and-outs of how a business works and the more I learned the more I wanted to apply that knowledge to something I was really passionate about. I founded my LLC 2 months before I ever had a podcast episode and I put every dime of my life savings into the company. I’m kind of an all or nothing person. I don’t do anything halfway. So once I got the idea for a podcast I just had this now or never feeling. I knew the industry was taking off and I needed to get in on the ground floor before it was too late to get noticed.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
My degree is in Biological Sciences and I did genetics research out of college. After a short time working with worms and spider DNA I knew labs weren’t for me and I moved to a medical device company. It was a start-up and I fell in love with the culture of a start-up company. The teamwork, the figure-it-out attitudes. I knew I could never go back to a large corporation.
I didn’t know anything about media or broadcast but what start-ups taught me was how to figure it out. I learned everything I could about the podcasting industry and the shows that were in the space. I studied what worked and what didn’t for 3 years before I made the leap.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
No. It wasn’t a job title or a word I heard much growing up. I didn’t know any entrepreneurs. And when I did come to understand what the role was it sounded scary. I studied sciences in college because I thought it would be stable and always provide me a good paying job. But… that’s the beauty about growing up. You learn a lot about yourself and you’re allowed to change your mind. The more I figured out who I am and where I thrive, I learned that I don’t want the stable job. I love risks. I love change. I love being creative. And above all I love being able to create my own rules and my own space where employees can come and be themselves and thrive.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
When we launched, it was just with one show: Crime Junkie. I knew who my “customer” would be because I was them. Women, who can’t get enough True Crime stories and who listen to podcasts. The second was important because in 2017 there was still a large percentage of the US population that did not listen to podcasts regularly. So I knew trying to market to those people would be much harder because I would have to educate them on podcasting and get them to listen to mind. Whereas if I targeted people who already listened I just had to convince them to try mine.
So a lot of the marketing in the early days was advertising in other true crime podcasts. I did cross promotions and paid promotions and it was incredibly successful. The beauty of podcasting is listeners don’t have to choose. We all aren’t fighting for TV time slots, it’s all on-demand so I knew the true Crime Junkie would find me on other shows and still listen because they wanted more content.
We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?
I didn’t hire team members soon enough. I was ambitious in my growth goals and even thought I was meeting, even exceeding, all of those I was very late in pulling the trigger on additional hires. For the first year and a half I was doing almost everything on my own with the help of one part-time editor and Brit. I was spread very thin and I’m still suffering the consequences from that today because I feel like I’m always 3 hires behind where we actually need to be. It takes a lot of work to find the right people and get them trained so I’m always playing catch up.
If I had to do it over I would anticipate the hires I need based on my business plan and get those people in even if it felt a little too soon.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
All of my proudest moments revolve around our advocacy work. I started the show to find a way to make a real difference in the true crime space so when I can see that happen all the hours of work feel worth it.
We did a fundraiser for the DNA Doe Project back in 2019. So many of our fans contributed to fund DNA testing to identify the ‘Sumter County Does’ – It took until 2021 but this year they announced that they had been. officially named as Pamela Buckley and James Freund.
I cried when DNA Doe Project told us. That was one of the moments where I was like “WOW – it’s really working. We can get our listeners behind causes that are actually going to move the needle.”
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
My favorite question to ask people is “Tell me about your worst boss” and “OK now tell me about your best boss.” Since we are small, a lot of people still report to me. I find it is a good way to see what they really look for in a leader and if our working styles will align. I’m also looking out for anyone who can go on and on about bad bosses but don’t have much to say about their good ones. Usually those people tend to be dissatisfied with all types of leadership or structure.
A hiring tip I can’t recommend enough is using some kind of assessment tool. We work with a company called Rockstar Workforce. With them we “benchmark” a job. Basically, it outlines the DISC profile of an ideal candidate for each specific role and then as people go through the interview process we have them take an assessment to see how they align. The tool we use is scary accurate, I’ve taken it and it will even tell you the things about yourself you may not want to hear. So it is nice to have that as backup as your interviewing people because most people can have the right answers in an interview but when the rubber meets the road is that who they really are? And how will they operate in our specific environment? We don’t just use the tool for hiring. We use it for continued growth and communication between team members.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
We took a big hit in listenership at the beginning when everyone’s normal routines went out the window. We lost our commuters and lunch time listeners. But as people figured out their new normal we got them back and have continued to grow.
Luckily our operations were such that we could do everything remote. In fact, Brit and I have always recorded separately so we were fortunate that it didn’t disrupt our process in any way and we were able to keep putting out content uninterrupted.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
MORE CONTENT! We have a new show coming out this month (March 29) called O.C. Swingers and on April 29th a new season of CounterClock will drop and I’m really excited because for the first time ever we are dropping CounterClock as a binge and all 20 episodes will be available at once.
On the Crime Junkie side we are also working on enhancing our fan club experience. We have something pretty big coming this summer than people in the fan club should look out for!
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
Nothing is guaranteed. You have to stay flexible and constantly be looking ahead and finding ways to diversify/reinvent.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
That I’m not the only one. Even if you’re the first female entrepreneur in your industry you aren’t the first female entrepreneur. It can be very lonely so finding someone who has or is going through that journey as well can be a lifesaver. Even if they don’t have all the answers they will really be able to hear you in a way other people in your life cannot.
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
I’ve been very fortunate to work with my childhood best friend and alongside my brother and sister so my life doesn’t feel different than it did before. They are daily reminders of who I am and where I came from and I never want to lose that.
Additionally, the fact that podcasting is done in isolation (covid or not) means that what i was doing day one is exactly the same thing I’m doing at year 3. So, I know that tens of millions of people hear our content every month but I don’t actually get to see them so I think it is easy to keep my head down and still work just as hard as I did day one when I was trying to get my company off the ground.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
I believe in it but I have not mastered it. Burn out is very real and takes a toll on my mental health. I’m trying to find outlets and create some separation between work and home but it can be hard. It’s not just me anymore. I have 13 people whose livelihoods depend on me and I take that very seriously. I think this goes back to what I was saying about making sure you hire people sooner rather than later. audiochuck is far from a one woman show and I’m forever grateful for my team because the fact that I’ve been able to stay sane the last year is all because of them.
What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
One of my biggest fears growing up was reading out loud. I hated it and it would give me such bad anxiety. Now I literally read scripts for a living. But I think it goes to show that you shouldn’t back away from something just because it makes you uncomfortable. Sometimes we find the greatest version of ourselves if we can push through the uncomfortable.
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
1. Make a list! Things will 100% fall through the crack if everything is living in your head
2. Find the hours when you work best. I do my best work very early in the morning so I come to the office usually 3+ hours before everyone else and that’s when I get my best work done.
3. Block time on your calendar for personal “holds” – If I don’t I’m booked back-to-back for 8-9 hours straight sometimes. These holds allow me time to catch up or take a break for myself.
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
I think it means paving the way for future women in my industry to stand up, stand out, and be heard.